Is architecture’s cultural fit too tight?

Should the architecture profession seek broader and further cultural additions? Building the culture rather than buttressing existing biases.

As I was writing my previous post Architects Hiring Better I began to consider the composition of the architecture profession. In particular, I become curious as to whether the profession was predisposed to maintaining cultural fit across the entirety of the profession – from university through to practice. The profession, as a microcosm of the culture as a whole, is not immune from the reinforcement through omission and a lack of diversity.

Note: I want to acknowledge I am not across the admissions practices of universities, the diversity of degrees nor any significant statistical evidence. To confirm any of my conjectures I imagine would require a significant body of academic research. I pose these meditations on architectural culture as questions in the interests of further discussion and out of curiosity. I also won’t be reiterating here the shortcomings of cultural fit v the advantages of cultural add – for that please read my previous post Architects Hiring Better.

I think the majority of architects would agree that they’d like the diversity in the profession to reflect the diversity of society. This would include at university as well as in employ. When it comes to university admissions, however, there are obviously socio economic barriers to parts of society. This maintains status quo to some extent and inhibits the potential for cultural add, contributing to maintaining cultural fit and group think. I’m additionally curious as to whether the architectural culture may be so marked that the majority enrolling students are by very definition a cultural fit rather than add?

Once ensconced in a university architecture degree are the students of imprecise cultural fit then shaped to fit? Is the cultural add discouraged and a homogeneity of approach and thinking predominant? Practitioners (architects) also return to teach at universities reinforcing the cultural status quo. Where does the opportunity for cultural add come from in these institutions? Are there culturally diverse minds challenging and adding to the pre-eminent culture? Is there pressure (conscious or unconscious) brought to bear by the profession to ensure cultural fit and employment readiness? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I would welcome anyone’s insights here.

Universities are an opportunity to change the architectural culture from the bottom up. My guess is, despite my line of questioning, that there is action on cultural add in our institutions. Solely relying on change and cultural add from the bottom up, is not however enough to shift the culture in a timely manner.

So what of the profession? Does the profession make enough effort to seek out to add to the cultural rather than maintaining the one that’s a fit? There are many ways the profession reinforces the culture: awards, publications, conferences and seldom do these challenge the status quo. Is architecture attractive to a diverse range of people? How might the current culture discourage a diversity of people, ideas and attitudes? I’m curious how the profession might seek to challenge its culture? What ways might the profession seek out a cultural add rather than fit?

I trust that the majority would acknowledge the value of diversity. The value of cultural add to defeat group think and to broaden the culture. I’m curious what other people think. Is this something the profession needs to embrace more and address? Hit me up via email.

This consideration of cultural add is part of the conversation we’re having in A Question of Practice, please feel free to join us. You can sign up for emails with meeting updates on the A Question of Practice page.

Picture by Roman Odintsov on Pexels [cropped]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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